A low-frequency instability. is investigated in a helicon plasma, which is characterized by comparably high plasma-beta and high collision frequencies. Single movable Langmuir probes and a poloidal probe. array are used for studies of spatiotemporal dynamics and for characterization of the background plasma parameters. All experimentally observed features of the instability are found to be consistent with drift waves. A linear nonlocal numerical model for drift modes, based on the two-fluid description of a plasma, is used for comparison between the experimental observations and theory. Comparing numerical and experimental frequencies, it is found that the experimentally observed frequencies are consistent with drift waves. The numerical results show that the high electron collision frequencies provide the strongest destabilization mechanism in the helicon plasma. (c) 2005 American Institute of Physics.